Aliens Attack Again! Species II Edition

Apparently Species was not enough so here we have Species II – also available on instant Netflix.

One-line Review: More nudity + less coherence + James Cromwell = meh

Species II (1998) – Rated R

“This 1998 sequel follows Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard), an astronaut on his way back to Earth after a mission to Mars. It seems that Ross picked up something on his voyage: an alien virus that’s causing his DNA to mutate, transforming him into a randy crossbreed intent on world domination through procreation. Can authorities stop him before he mates with Eve (Natasha Henstridge), a government-created clone of her human-alien hybrid mother?”

For the (inevitable) sequel to Species, the directing reins passed to veteran TV director Peter Medak. Rather obviously Species II decides to explore the male side of the equation. This allows the film to shamelessly pander to male fantasy scenarios. Yes I know the first one did that but this practically starts with an impromptu threesome.

Sil has been recreated as Eve, a rather unfortunate name given that the object is to have her NOT be impregnated. Apparently women of Sil’s race are created through genetic engineering (thus allowing a succession of possible roles for Natasha Henstridge) but men are created through contact with Martian slime. Why was this slime on Mars just waiting for astronauts to encounter it? Well it seems an unnecessary stretch but whatever gets the ball rolling.

Marg Helgenberger and Michael Madsen return to collect paychecks, I mean reprise their roles, as Dr. Laura Baker and Press Lennox respectively. Dr. Baker appears to have left sense behind and Press Lennox is only in the hunt for the money (insert Madsen joke here). Natasha Henstridge returns as Eve, a clone of Sil that Dr. Baker made so she could prevent future disaster (:P).

Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina and Forest Whitaker do not return so to round out the cast we have George Dzundza as Colonel Carter Burgess Jr., Mykelti Williamson as astronaut Dennis Gamble and an always welcome James Cromwell as Senator Ross. Just as a model was chosen as an alien for Species, the other alien here is male model Justin Lazard. Unfortunately he doesn’t shine here in the way Henstridge did in the first film.

Marg Helgenberger must have had a return clause that said she would do the movie if she didn’t have to appear nude and I’m guessing that Natasha Henstridge agreed to but limited her nudity. To make up for that director Peter Medak has pretty much every other woman appear nude or semi-nude in the film. I was only surprised that the all-female staff of the research center didn’t have a shower scene.

Species was a matter of B-movie style over substance. Species II jettisons the fawning over Henstridge, much of the designs of H.R. Giger, and the little bit of coherence that Species had. If you thought the team hunting Sil was stupid, the team hunting Patrick is downright moronic.

Notes to director Medak: Quarantine – that word doesn’t mean what you think it means. Don’t make your justifications needlessly complicated. If you’re staging a manhunt, perhaps more than two people should be involved. At least I didn’t see the boom in this film.

A few hilarious lines of dialogue from Senator Ross to his son – “Not if I can help it. Now there’s no way that they can find you here. The property is still listed under your mother’s maiden name. And I sure as hell am not going to hand you over to those Pentagon b#$%^s. I am taking you into Johns Hopkins for treatment.” Wait let me see if I understand this – you are telling your son that this is the perfect place to hide but that you are taking him into Johns Hopkins. Seriously? Did no one actually read the script?

People Watch: Look for Peter Boyle in an all-too-brief role as Dr. Herman Cromwell. Comedian / Law&Order perennial Richard Belzer appears as the President.

Aliens Attack! Species Edition

Those aliens just can’t beat us down. Species is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-line Review: Gorgeous alien models (Giger and Henstridge) enlivens otherwise routine move.

Species (1995) – Rated R

“When government scientists (led by Ben Kingsley) receive a transmission from space containing alien DNA, they create the ultimate femme fatale: a hybrid woman named Sil (Natasha Henstridge) with supermodel looks, deadly shape-shifting abilities … and raging hormones. When Sil escapes, a team of specialists scrambles to find her before she can reproduce, culminating in a fright-filled climax in the Los Angeles sewer system.”

“Nobody ever asked me to find anything they didn’t want dead.”

Species is definitely a guilty pleasure. It is neither written nor directed well and the acting is all over the place, in spite of the cast. Roger Donaldson (Cocktail, Dante’s Peak) is an adequate director but is often too by-the-numbers to produce something memorable. Dennis Feldman has seven writing credits – three of them are Species films.

Donaldson assembled a nice cast of solid ‘B’ performers. Ben Kingsley is our resident Frankenstein, Xavier Fitch, tampering with the forces of nature. Kingsley proved he was a great actor with Gandhi but since then has appeared in anything anyone asks him to. As usual Michael Madsen plays the killer, though no one seems to get the performance out of him that Tarantino does.

Marg Helgenberger is actually good as Dr. Laura Baker. The same cannot be said of the normally reliable Forest Whitaker as the world’s most clueless empath, Dan Smithson. Alfred Molina rounds out the cast of hunters as the hapless Dr. Stephen Arden.

The real find here, of course, is Natasha Henstridge in her debut performance. She is really good here channeling a Daryl Hannah Splash-type of alien and the camera loves her. From her emergence from the womb, naked and completely covered in KY (I swear I’m not making that up), well let us just say that she had me at hello. I liked her so much that I watched several more of her movies before I realized that I really just liked her as Sil.

The other real star here is H.R. Giger’s creature design. He does a wonderful job of creating monsters that convey an uncomfortable level of sensuality. His Alien design was so classic that it helped spawn a whopping five sequels and now a prequel (of sorts) in Prometheus. His Sil design is reminiscent of the classic Alien crossed with a human which, not coincidentally, is pretty much what Sil is.

Not only is Giger a great artist but he had such a commitment to the project that when MGM canceled the ‘nightmare train’ shoot because it was too expensive, Giger put up a hundred grand to film it. I like that they kept it because it looks neat but it is not actually integral to the plot.

The film is somewhat by-the-numbers. Sil, an unstoppable alien hybrid, escapes from a scientific facility and ;earns human behavior while trying to find a mate. The government assembles a team of experts to hunt her down but can they find her in time? This formula and the other factors would have produced a classic film had portions of this movie not been so terribly stupid.

Notes to filmmakers: Cyanide gas is invisible. Arcade games should be plugged in. Empaths should be empathic. Lab grown aliens do not have pierced ears. You don’t need an empath to state the obvious. You don’t need a psychologist to state the obvious. You don’t need a biologist to state the obvious. Oh fine – let’s just say you don’t need to state the obvious. For goodness sake, learn to hide the boom (Film 101).

Species is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy in moderation but the script is deeply stupid. Every one of the hunters states the obvious repeatedly and almost none of what they say or do requires the expert knowledge they supposedly possess.

People Watch: Look for Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Shutter Island) as the young Sil (prior to her transformation into Natasha Henstridge). Patricia Belcher, Caroline on Bones, appears briefly as a hospital admittance clerk.

WarGames – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. WarGames is currently available on instant Netflix.

WarGames

PASS: WarGames (1983) – Rated PG.

“After cracking the security of an Air Force supercomputer, young hacker David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) moves his piece in a seemingly innocent video game and accidentally tells the computer to start preparing a preemptive nuclear strike. Driven by Cold War paranoia, director John Badhams techno-thriller follows Lightman and his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy) as they travel across the country to try and warn the military of the impending launch.”

“Is this a game or is it real?” – “Whats the difference?”

“He does fit the profile perfectly. He is intelligent but an underachiever; alienated from his parents; has few friends. Classic case for recruitment by the Soviets.”

Ah the film that began the multi-decade love affair between Hollywood and the hacker. This is the first movie to mention a firewall. As with almost all movies involving hackers or computers, the number of factual errors is enormous.

The acoustic coupler is completely unnecessary to the setup in Davids room (he has a normal modem). The autodialer cycles through phone numbers at a rate that no computer/modem of the time could possibly manage. Ditto that with the computer cycling through a brute force password hack.

Apparently David and NORAD both use the same voice synthesizer. As usual every word typed or shown on screen must be read aloud. It always makes me feel like I am wasting my time reading anything as it will be repeated soon enough. Well the important bits anyway – the voice synthesizer apparently picks and chooses what it repeats.

While there are a number of egregious computer errors, the script has a good grasp on hacker lifestyle at the time, both on the main character and on a few secondary hackers. At one point, David is shown coming out of the 7-11 with a Big Gulp – a pretty standard scene from my teen years though his goes a bit differently. The two secondary hackers are clearly social misfits as is David to a certain extent.

Badham does give us the requisite classic 80s montage. In this case it is a research montage instead of a workout one. We also get the requisite teenager who is smarter than everyone around him – ah if only the old folks would listen to him.

Much of the military is played as complete dunderheads. For example, immediately after the General is assured that the launch codes could only be used if we were at Defcon 1, he raises the Defcon level to 3 from 4. It does not appear to have been said ironically either.

Strangely this film was nominated for three Academy Awards. It was nominated for Best Cinematography, Sound, and Best Writing – Original Screenplay. It lost to Fanny and Alexander, The Right Stuff, and Tender Mercies respectively. The sound I understand but I did not find the cinematography impressive and the writing is riddled with plotholes.

I have to ask a lot of questions though.

Does NORAD really allow tour groups? Of the command center? With cameras? And where they do not know the head count?

Is it SOP for the FBI to arrest high school students in Seattle and then take them to NORAD?

Does NORAD really use Galaga sound effects? Does NORAD really use Beethovens Fifth to contact the President?

Certainly Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy are young and engaging here. John Wood is nice and quirky here and Dabney Coleman essentially plays the same character he always plays.

While this film is fun to watch, it is riddled with plotholes and errors and is very dated. I remembered really enjoying this film when it came out but I am afraid that I cannot bring myself to recommend it now. I do have to give it points for featuring Galaga so prominently though.

People Watch: Look for a very young Michael Madsen in the opening scene. Try not to picture him saying “Are you going to bark little doggie or are you going to bite?” Director John Badham is the voice on the tape recorder.

Bloodrayne – Videogames are bad for you week

This is videogames are bad for you week. Bloodrayne is currently available on instant Netflix.

Bloodrayne

AVOID: Bloodrayne (2006) – UR – This movie is unrated

The theatrical version is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality, and nudity. Presumably the unrated version is a little stronger.

“A half-human, half vampire sets out to destroy her vampire king father in this Gothic horror film based on the video game. Bloodthirsty Lord Kagan (Ben Kingsley) wants his daughter to become a full-fledged vampiress, but fanged femme fatale Rayne (Kristanna Loken) denounces her father’s legacy and instead joins up with a trio of vampire hunters (Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez and Matt Davis). Billy Zane and Udo Kier co-star.”

“Keep your friends close, your enemies closer”

Yes this film doesn’t even bother with its own dialogue. It simply borrows from other films. When it does have original dialogue that dialogue is awful.

“Where are you going?” – “I’m going on my own.”

Thankfully there isn’t as much shaky cam, jump cutting, shifting camera angles and out of focus photography as in yesterday’s Alone in the Dark II but all are present to an annoying degree here as well.

Kristanna Loken, last seen as the hot Terminator in Terminator 3, is actually an ideal choice as Bloodrayne. It seems a shame that they didn’t keep the Nazi setting of the game. My guess is that Uwe Boll must have had easy access to medieval costumes. Also of course since much of his financing is German, Nazis probably don’t play well there.

The stupidity on display here is amazing. Vladimir (Michael Madsen) has a wrist-mounted mini-crossbow that apparently can reload itself. Characters are not so much killed by others as they do fall on other character’s weapons. Every unimportant character (villagers for example) is dressed in completely drab clothing, most lacking any color at all.

At one point the heroes get ‘black powder from China’. Is this somehow better than the gunpowder that Europeans had had for hundreds of years by this point?

No one looks askance at Bloodrayne’s midriff and cleavage baring outfit, much less that she seems to be the only character allowed outdoors in the color red. Don’t even get me started on the tattoo she sports. Also it apparently only takes Bloodrayne two seconds to completely drain a vampire of blood.

I love how the monastery has been guarding a sacred artifact for centuries yet Bloodrayne shows up and minutes later she has not only killed the guardian and foiled the videogame like puzzle, she also has the artifact. The monastery is then completely wiped out in a hilariously bad gorefest.

The only bright spot in the film is a single scene with a must be slumming Geraldine Chaplin (The Four Musketeers, Jane Eyre). She plays a fortune teller and in spite of all the other good actors in the film, she is the only one to give a good performance.

In fact I shouldn’t let the good actors off so lightly. Michael Madsen appears to be pretending that he is in a completely different film. Michelle Rodriguez just plays the same tough girl she always does – it would be nice to see her play against type sometime. Ben Kingsley is completely and somewhat inexplicably dreadful.

By all means AVOID this movie. If by any chance you missed any of the hilariously bad gore effects, don’t worry. They replay all of them at the end of the film in a flashback.

People Watch: Meat Loaf appears as Leonid. He is billed as Meat Loaf Aday – is this to distinguish him from all the other actors out there named Meat Loaf? At any rate his scene is the most embarrassing one in the film.